“Whatever happens in baptism, it is no less a miracle than a fragile sprout emerging from the earth. We Christians are plants nurtured by the baptismal watershed and tended to by the careful hand of a loving gardener.”
On the first Sunday of Eastertide, I walked down High Street in Fort Wayne, Indiana, with my wife and our roommates. The freshness of blooming flowers awakened our senses. Our eyes and noses were graced with the beauty of lilac bushes and tulips. The notorious gray of Northeast Indiana winters was replaced by purple, red, green, and white. Springtime is a season of birth and newness. And, for two people in our church community, this springtime is the season of their baptism.
What is baptism for?
The baptismal service’s sermon considered Romans 6:4: “Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” No other passage so clearly addresses the question “What is baptism for?” Baptism draws us into Christ’s life. As Paul goes on to say, “You also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” While baptism does many things, its primary purpose is to bury us into Christ’s death and raise us into the newness of Christ’s resurrected life. This is why the church has always called baptism a sacrament.
But what is it like to be “buried into Christ’s death” and “raised” into the newness of life? If we continue to read Romans 6, we discover that this new life is characterized by the fruit it bears. “But now that you have been set free from sin,” Paul writes, “and have become slaves to God, the fruit you reap leads to holiness, and the outcome is eternal life.” In baptism, we are buried, planted, like a seed. We are watered and nurtured into a new life. The newness of life in Christ is comparable to the newness a seed experiences as it bursts forth from the soil. Though at first the plant may be spindly and delicate, with the care of the gardener and the support of its ecological community, the plant will become sturdy, stable, and a bearer of delectable fruit.
Whatever happens in baptism, it is no less a miracle than a fragile sprout emerging from the earth. We Christians are plants nurtured by the baptismal watershed and tended to by the careful hand of a loving gardener.
Zen Hess is a 2016 graduate of Duke Divinity School where he especially appreciated studying theology with Norman Wirzba.